Design Con 2015

Wearable devices: First ask "Why Wear It?"'

Junko Yoshida

June 30, 2014

Junko YoshidaJune 30, 2014

MADISON, Wis. — I'm afraid many of us in the electronics industry might be getting this whole "wearable" trend all wrong.

In the era of emerging wearable devices, the most important part of the debate shouldn't be "how" a wearable device looks (its form factor, if you will). More important is to understand "what for." Why attach a gadget to yourself? Aside from the brief thrill of bragging about your cool new smart watch, how does wearability enhance the gadget, for the person wearing it?

I am looking at the first Android Wear smartwatches unveiled, respectively, by Samsung and LG on Wednesday. Android Wear is a version of Google's mobile operating system tailored for smart watches and other wearables.

Instead of trying to cram an entire smartphone into a wristwatch, the new gear based on the Android Wear OS is designed for to convey information as they need it, and to facilitate a quick response. This is an improvement on the previous generation of smartphone-strapped-on-a-wrist devices.

But really, how many of us actually want to get pinged by a watch every time we receive a text message, a mention in Twitter, an update in Facebook, or a new email?

I know that an Android Wear-based smartwatch is meant to do so much more than paging. But am I the only thinking that the notification part of Android Wear feels distinctly like a throwback to the beeper era? Anyone who remembers wearing that electronic leash will be reluctant for a re-run.

But let's set aside the new Android Wear gizmos for a moment, and think about the GoPro camera.

Designed under the Hero brand, GoPro's camera, retailing somewhere between $199.99 and $399.99, is popular among athletes, especially surfers, divers, skateboarders and cyclists. It feels like the prototype wearable device, a harbinger of all future wearable devices.

As seen in the company's IPO this week (which valued GoPro at $2.96 billion), the ascension of the startup is pretty remarkable. In a Reuters story, Dougherty & Co analyst Charlie Anderson was quoted saying, "There probably hasn't been a consumer electronics brand as dominant as GoPro has been in its category since the early days of the iPod or the iPad."

GoPro Hero3+ on ski helmet
GoPro Hero3+ on ski helmet

I'm not sure if I would go so far as to praise GoPro. But it's true that the action sports camera supplier has successfully carved out a brand of its own in a solid market segment where big CE companies and traditional camera manufacturers had never ventured.

What I admire most about GoPro, however, is that it has figured out the "what for" part of the wearable device question. Its cameras execute well on this promise.

To read more go to Page 2: "GoPro's success."

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